Belfast-born British actor and filmmaker Kenneth Branagh is possibly the best friend the Bard of Avon has in movies today — and now he’s actually playing the playwright.
As director and star, Branagh’s Shakespeare film adaptations include Henry V, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, Loves Labour’s Lost, As You Like It, Othello and Macbeth.
Now, quite quietly, he went about directing and starring in All Is True, a new period drama about the final years in the life of William Shakespeare, just acquired for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics. Right before Christmas, the film will get a brief theatrical run in New York and Los Angeles — so it qualifies for awards — then sent to more theaters in 2019.
Taking on the daunting task of writing about possibly the greatest writer in the English language is comedian, screenwriter and author Ben Elton, better known for such funny stuff as The Young Ones and Blackadder (and for an acting role in Much Ado About Nothing).
Penned by Ben Elton in his first original drama, All Is True is set in 1613 when Shakespeare is acknowledged as the greatest writer of the age. But disaster strikes when his renowned Globe Theatre burns to the ground. Devastated, Shakespeare returns to Stratford, where he must face a troubled past and a neglected family. Haunted by the death of his only son Hamnet, he struggles to mend the broken relationships with his wife (Dench) and daughters. In so doing, he is forced to examine his own failings as husband and father. McKellen plays the Earl of Southampton.
And, from EmpireOnline.com:
Sony Pictures Classics picked up rights to distribute it worldwide. “We have known and worked with Ken for 25 years,” the company says in a statement. “We feel this is a movie he was destined to make. He conjures up for us the depth and dramatic richness of a character about whom we have always been fascinated. What we have seen has confirmed our excitement to plan a qualifying run at the end of this year and to open the movie fully in the new year. We believe audiences will embrace the freshness of All Is True.”
Catholic writer and Shakespeare scholar Joseph Pearce has long defended the Bard’s Catholicism. In an April 2018 piece for the National Catholic Register, he writes:
Blessed John Henry Newman wrote that Shakespeare had “so little of a Protestant about him that Catholics have been able, without extravagance, to claim him as their own.” Hilaire Belloc, echoing Newman, insisted that “the plays of Shakespeare were written by a man plainly Catholic in habit of mind.” G. K. Chesterton, reaching the same conclusion, stated that Shakespeare’s Catholicism was “a thing that every Catholic feels by every sort of convergent common sense to be true.”
Newman, Belloc and Chesterton drew their conclusions from their deep understanding of Shakespeare’s work, not having the benefit of the wealth of biographical evidence for the Bard’s Catholicism that has emerged in the past century or so. Today, those who claim that Shakespeare was a Catholic can employ the historical facts of his life and times, as well as the textual evidence to be gleaned from his poetry and plays.
Today it is widely accepted, albeit reluctantly by many, that Shakespeare was raised in a devoutly Catholic family at a time when the practice of the Faith was illegal.
Raised the son of working-class Protestant parents in a divided Belfast, Branagh — despite having directed what Bishop Robert Barron called a “very Christian Cinderella” — has not shied away from what faith exists in his Shakespeare films, but is not a man known for bringing up the subject himself.
And, writer Elton is not religious (but he doesn’t seem hostile to the notion of a Higher Power).
So, is the Shakespeare of All Is True a Catholic or a Protestant, or is it just not discussed? We shall see …
Here’s a peek …
Image: Sony Pictures Classics
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.